India’s No. 3 backs the wicketkeeper batsman to keep playing his natural attacking game
Cheteshwar Pujara is enjoying his budding new partnership with Rishabh Pant. The two batsmen have made timely interventions for India in three consecutive Tests so far, the latest coming on day three of the Chennai Test. Pant joined Pujara when the hosts fell to 73 for 4, 505 behind England, and put up a 119-run stand powered by Pant’s decisive six-hitting against Jack Leach.
Pujara said batting alongside Pant almost makes batting easier. “It does. When a batter is going after the bowlers from one end and I’m around, I can always have a chat. There’s a good left and right combination which also frustrates the bowlers.
“[…] the way Rishabh bats, especially against spinners, I think he likes to take them on and that’s the way he will go about it. It’s been a crucial partnership for us and I hope it continues, I love batting with him. And if I can be of any help and I can just speak to him – what are the shots he can play and what to avoid at times. I’m really happy overall with the way he’s playing. He still has to learn a few more things – he still has to put the team in a commanding position because he is capable of that and he’s missing out on hundreds. I’m sure that he will learn from this. It’s good that he’s in form,” Pujara said.
Their 119-run stand came off just 145 balls as Pant took a liking to Leach, who had gone for 59 off six overs at one point. Pujara also benefited from this assault, picking some boundaries up himself as India kept a decent scoring rate through their innings. That was until an attempted pull from Pujara off a Dom Bess half-tracker ricocheted to midwicket off Ollie Pope’s shoulder at short leg.
On the day, it was one of four wickets that India lost playing an attacking shot, but Pujara said there wasn’t really a plan to be aggressive.
“It wasn’t part of the game plan. […] when we’re playing in India, the scoring rate is always on the higher side. And we were getting loose balls. And Rishabh always bats the way he bats. He likes to take the bowlers on. So he just wanted to bat in a natural way, which is fair I think. That’s his game and that’s the way he should play.
“I think we could have still batted a bit better. There were some soft dismissals which didn’t go in our favour, like the way I got out, the way Jinks [Ajinkya Rahane] got out. I felt that those wickets were crucial for us. At the same time, we are still very confident because Ash [R Ashwin] and Washington [Sundar] are batting really well. We’ll just have to move on from here and tomorrow I think will be the most crucial day for us.”
India finished the day on 257 for 6, still 122 away from avoiding the follow-on. But in Pujara’s view, this is still a good batting surface, albeit one that has begun to take some turn. He said India had expected a little more assistance for their bowlers on the first two days, but have moved on from that and believe they are still very much alive in the Test match.
“When we spoke before this series started – what happened in Australia, whether we were able to achieve our goals as a batting unit – we felt we were able to achieve our goals. And same thing applies here,” Pujara said as part of a response to a question about how Bess’ bowling compared to Ashwin’s. “This is the first innings which has just started, and we are still in a decent position. I would still say the way Ashwin and Washi are batting, we can put up a decent total. So we want to achieve our goals as a batting unit rather than focusing on what the opposition is doing.”
Varun Shetty is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo